Responsible aging New York residents may believe they have completed their estate planning when they have drawn up a will and designated how their assets will be distributed. In truth, however, this is only part of planning for the future. It is wise to prepare for a potentially serious health condition.
Individuals of any age could develop serious medical issues or suffer severe injuries in an accident that leaves them incapacitated or which could prove terminal. In these situations, it is important that medical staff members know how to treat their patients, even if those patients cannot voice their wishes for care.
Fortunately, living wills can detail how patients want their treatments carried out when combined with a health care proxy. However, only 37 percent of individuals across the country have advance health care directives. When care instructions are not clear, loved ones may face confusion, complications and conflict.
What is a living will?
A living will is a legal document that contains an individual’s desires for end-of-life medical treatments. This can include choices about the level of medical intervention as well as wishes for organ donation. One example that many people include in their living wills is whether they should remain on life support.
Before a living will goes into effect, two physicians will need to certify that the individual is in the lawfully specified medical condition – such as a state of permanent unconsciousness or a terminal illness – and that the individual is not capable of making sound medical decisions.
What it cannot do is name someone to make health care choices on your behalf.
What is a health care proxy?
A health care proxy can also be referred to as a heath care power of attorney. The document gives a person, your healthcare agent, the ability to make medical-related decisions on behalf of an incapacitated person. New York state limits this to choices about hydration, nutrition and whether or not to resuscitate.
Creating this document well before it is needed can help ensure that these important decisions are not left up to chance and that family members are not placed in a difficult position of deciding who should make these choices.
An agent will have no power to make decisions outside the scope defined by the state. They cannot make financial choices for you that are unrelated to the medical care you are receiving.
How to create a living will or health care proxy
If you do choose to create a living will or health care proxy, you will need to complete the applicable form. You may obtain this form in various ways, including directly downloading one online. However, because you want your instructions to remain legally binding and enforceable, you may want to ensure that the document you use is still applicable. State laws regarding estate planning can change, and if you use an outdated form, your information may not remain valid.
To ensure that you have created a living will properly or simply gain more information on this option, you may want to utilize local New York legal resources. By doing so, you can make sure you obtain reliable and applicable information.
What to do after creating an advance directive
Most individuals find it beneficial to share these decisions with close family members and friends so that loved ones are prepared when the times comes. It can also be crucial to let anyone involved in the living will and health care proxy know some of the specifics, such as where to find the paperwork and the contact information for the New York lawyer who helped prepare the documentation.
Living wills and health care proxies do not expire and remain effective until the individual changes them or creates a new one, so it is good practice to review them periodically to make sure they still reflect your current wishes.
Planning ahead for end-of-life wishes may not be enjoyable, but it is important and will generally provide peace of mind in the long run for both you and the people you care most about.